But she winked back the tears and "practised a smile" in her looking glass before she ran down to join daddy on the porch. There was a big touring car out in front. Janice knew it belonged to the vice-president of the Farmers ad Merchants Bank.
"Oh, what a fine car, Daddy!" she whispered, clinging to his hand. "Let's play it is ours—while we are in it, of course."
"Would you like to have a car my dear?" he asked her, as they settled themselves in the tonneau, and the driver started the machine.
"Oh!" she cried. "I could just jump out of my skin when I think of it! Every time I ride with Stella
Latham I'm just as covetous as I can be. I guess I am real wicked, Daddy."
"I shouldn't be surprised," he returned, smiling. "It would be nice to have all the comforts and the luxuries of the rich—without their troubles."
"M-mm!" said Janice. "But even their troubles can't be so bad. Not as bad as poor people's troubles."
"Like ours?" he returned, smiling down at her.
"It is a fact that we cannot keep a hired girl. We're not as lucky as the man I heard of who was boasting of having kept a cook a whole month. But it seemed that this month his house was quarantined for scarlet fever."
"Oh, Daddy!" giggled Janice. "Let's get a yellow, or a red, card from the Board of Health, and tack it up outside the door."
"And so keep Mrs. Watkins, whether or no? I am not sure that we can stand her, my dear."
"We-ell, there are worse," Janice confessed. "And we have had them," commented her father rather grimly. "Ah, that's the little house where the Johnsons live!"
"Oh, dear me! If it should be our Olga!"
"We'll know about that pretty soon," said Mr. Day comfortingly. "Stop here, Harry."
The car was halted, and Mr. Day jumped out and went up to the house. When he knocked a tall, pale woman, with a little baby in her arms, opened the narrow door. It took but a glance to reveal her nationality.
"You bane want my hoosban'?" asked the Swedish woman.
"No, Mrs. Johnson," replied Mr. Day. "I came to inquire about a young woman that I believe is staying here."
"No vooman here but me," declared the other, shaking her head vigorously.
"What? Haven't you a friend here named Olga?"
"Olga bane gone," declared the woman sullenly.
"Gone away? exclaimed Mr. Day. "Since last evening?"
"She bane gone."
"Are you Mrs. Johnson?" asked the man, earnestly.
"My name bane Yonson—yes," she agreed. "I don't know nottin' 'bout Olga. She bane gone. She did not mane to break dish, anyway."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Day, remembering what Janice had told him about the accident at the Latham's the evening before. "We have not come about the dish. It is for another matter entirely that we wish to find Olga."
"I not know where Olga bane go," pursued Mrs. Johnson, shaking her head vigorously.
"She went away this morning, then?"
"Yah. She bane go dis mornin'."
"Is her name Olga Cedarstrom?".
"No! No!" exclaimed Mrs. Johnson, shaking her head vigorously. "You not b'know dis Olga. She 'nudder girl."
"Where is your husband?" asked Mr. Day hopelessly. "Perhaps he can tell me more about her."
"Yon Yonson gone to Dover," declared his wife, suddenly shutting the door and leaving Mr. Broxton Day outside on the step.
CHAPTER XVI. A LETTER FROM POKETOWN
"It looks as though we had come upon a fool's errand," said Mr. Day, coming back to the car and his daughter. "Mrs. Johnson says that girl was not named Cedarstrom, and that she has already gone away."
"Do you suppose it is the truth, Daddy?" asked the anxious Janice.
"Well, it is probably the truth. All Olgas are not named 'Cedarstrom,' of course. And I fancy the girl was frightened because of the broken cutglass dish and escaped early this morning."
"Why? Would Mrs. Latham try to make her pay for it?"
"Perhaps. At least, this mysterious Olga thought she would be made to pay for the dish. Or perhaps she feared arrest. Sometimes these foreigners are very ignorant regarding our laws. She might easily have been frightened away."
"But if she is our Olga—"
"This woman here is stubborn. She will probably tell us nothing more about her friend. And she said flatly that the name was not Cedarstrom."
"Oh, dear!" sighed Janice, "it is too, too bad."
"It is too bad that the trail seems lost. I will try to see Mr. Johnson himself. We will make sure that the girl was not the one we are after. But, you see, we are inquiring for Olga for a reason that is likely to frighten her and her friends. I think some of those people over in Pickletown might tell me more than they do about Olga and that Willie Sangreen."
"It is just too bad!" half sobbed Janice. "I hoped we should find the treasure-box this time."
"Have patience. Rome was not built in a day," said her father.
"We're not building Rome," the girl retorted, but trying to smile again. "I guess even that was an easier job than finding a lost Swedish girl." "Don't worry, honey."
"But I can't help worrying," said Janice, sobbing again.
"You are overwrought, my dear. Don't let your mind run upon unpleasant things. That treasure-box. " "Will never be found, Daddy!" cried his little daughter. "I am sure! And if it isn't found I don't —don't—know—what I—shall—do."
He put his arm about her and hugged Janice tight against his side. "Don't lose hope so easily. And see here! Here is something new I forgot to tell you."
"What is it, Daddy?" she asked, as he began to search an inner pocket of his coat.
"A letter. From your Aunt Almira. Just listen to it."
"Oh, Daddy! From Aunt Almira in—in Poketown?"
"Yes. My half-brother's wife—and a good soul she is."
He drew the letter from its envelope and unfolded it. He began to read the epistle with a smile wreathing his lips, for Aunt Almira's communication was unintentionally funny:
"'Jase won't never get around to writing you, far as I see, so I had better do so before you get the suspicion that we are all dead. We might as well be and buried, too, here in Poketown—for it is right next door to a cemetery for deadness, I do believe. You know what it was when you was lucky enough to get out of it twenty years ago. Well, it is worse now. There has been nothing new in Poketown since you went away, excepting the town pump's been painted once.
"That time you came to see us with Laura, when Janice was a little girl—"
"Why, Daddy!" interrupted Janice, her eyes round with wonder, "I don't remember Poketown at all."
"You were too little to recall that visit. I have only been back there once since you and your dear mother and I visited Jase and Almira." Then he went on, reading aloud:
"'You remember the house needed painting and the front gate hung by one hinge. Well, it still needs painting and that one hinge has give up the ghost now. So you see, there hasn't been many changes. You're the only Day, I guess, that ever had any "get up and get" to them.
"'But my heart has been full of thoughts of you since we heard of poor Laura's death. We often speak of you and wonder how you and that little girl get on all stark alone. I know how I should feel if Jase and Marty was left as you and Janice be.'"
"Oh," gasped Janice, "she'd be dead!"
"Well," mused her father, "Almira, living in such a dead place as Poketown, evidently considers that she knows about how she would feel in her grave."
"Is it such an awful place, Daddy?" Janice asked seriously.
"What do you mean?" he inquired, in surprise. "Oh, Poketown, I mean, of course. "It is a lovely place. But it must be confessed that it is a good deal behind the times. It is not as bad as Aunt 'Mira makes it out to be, I guess. Only, the old Day house has pretty well gone to rack and ruin."
"Well. Let's hear the rest," urged Janice.
"'Jase says to be mighty careful if you should have to go down to that Mexico place. He reads in his Ledger that sometimes there is shooting down there and that the Mexicaners don't care who they shoot.'"
"Oh, Daddy!" cried Janice, "you don't mean you are going to Mexico?"
"I wrote them when I thought it might be necessary," he confessed.
"And you would send me East if you went? Oh, Daddy, please!"
"Well, my dear, that seemed the wisest thing to do."
"Don't worry now. We have engaged a new superintendent at the mines, and I guess things will go on all right. Listen to what your Aunt 'Mira says:
"'Of course, if you have to go down there on business, you send Janice right to us. I'm speaking for Jase as well as myself. We ain't rich, of course; but there's enough to fill another mouth yet awhile, so don't be bashful.
"'Hoping this finds you and Janice in health, it leaving us all the same, I will close,
"'Your, sister-in-law and Janice's aunt, "'ALMIRA DAY.'"
"I hope you won't have to go, and that I won't have to go, Daddy!" exclaimed the girl anxiously.
"She's a good soul—Almira. She'd do her best by you."
"I don't want anybody to do their best by me—only you, Daddy."
"But you see, my dear, I couldn't leave you alone at home here. Certainly not with a woman like Mrs. Watkins."
"Why, she would be imposing upon you all the time. No, indeed. I feel that she is not the woman for our house, after all."
"Oh, dear, Daddy! isn't it funny how many people there are in the world who don't just fit?"
"Right you are, my dear," he agreed, laughing again. "'Round pegs in square holes.' The woods are full of them."
"That Mrs. Watkins never should have gone out to work.'
"I guess not."
"And people like Mrs. Carringford have got their own families and their own troubles. So we can't get them."
"What put Amy's mother in your mind?"
"I wish you could see their house, Daddy."
"I have," he said, rather grimly. "And it is sight!"
"Not inside! Oh, not at all, Daddy!" she cried. "It is as neat as wax. Mrs. Carringford is just a love of a housekeeper. I wish you could see how neat everything is kept," and she sighed.
The automobile soon brought them to the house at Eight Hundred and Forty-five Knight Street. Mr. Day had become serious again as they came in sight of the cottage in which so much of a disturbing nature had happened of late.
For a few days, it was true, Broxton Day had hoped the new housekeeper would prove an efficient and trustworthy employee, but what he had seen on coming unexpectedly home this Saturday noon, had caused doubt to rise in his mind.
Experience had taught him that domestic servants are the most independent of laborers. To dare call one to account—especially one like Mrs. Watkins—was to court disaster.
He had felt this to be the case at the time, yet he was unwilling to see Janice made a drudge of by the too ladylike Mrs. Watkins. If the kitchen floor had to be scrubbed, and the houseworker would not scrub it, he would do it himself!
In this mood he entered his home. All was quiet. There was nobody in the living room or dining room. On the table in the latter room were the dirty dishes and the remains of Mrs. Watkins' lunch.
"Oh! where is she?" gasped Janice, following her father through the rooms.
Mr. Day led the way to the kitchen. The pail stood where Janice had left it, the scrubbing brush beside it. The fire in the range had gone out.
With a smothered cry Janice darted upstairs. In a moment her voice reached his expectant ear:
"Oh, Daddy, she's gone!" she cried.
CHAPTER XVII. MISS PECKHAM WASHES HER HANDS
"It seemed that Mrs. Sophronia Watkins had never sent for her trunk; so all she had to do was to pack her bag and walk out of the house. And she had done that very thing.
"'What can't be cured, must be endured,'" quoted Daddy. "Here is a nice little island of clean floor where you scrubbed, Janice. I will build the fire, heat water, and finish the job."
'"Oh, no, Daddy! Let me. Your poor knees—" "My knees are not poor, I'd have you know," he retorted, laughing. "You dust around and make the house presentable for Sunday. 'Thus endeth the lesson.' No more 'lady' housekeepers, Janice, for us."
"No-o. I s'pose not. But who shall we get?"
"That is on the knees of the gods, my child," answered Daddy, who often used quotations that Janice did not altogether understand, but which she thought were very fine, just the same. "I guess you mean that nobody knows unless he's omniscient," she said now. "That's a big word, Daddy, but we had it in our lesson the other day. And I guess only somebody who knows everything could guess who will work for us next. Oh, dear!"
"These three weeks have been an expensive experience," said her father, ruefully enough. "Besides the addition to our household bills, Mrs. Watkins asked me the other evening for her month's wages. 'Salary,' she called it. She was about ten days ahead of time; but I gave it to her.
"So we can figure that our month's expenses have been about doubled. We could not stand that for long, Janice. Perhaps it is a blessing that Mrs. Watkins has taken herself off."
"Just the same, Daddy, I'm sorry you came home and caught me scrubbing the floor," Janice sighed. "We were getting along without your being bothered—after a fashion."
"At your cost," he said grimly. "No; we'll hobble along somehow."
"But it's such a hobble, Daddy! It seems to me that I'm not much of a 'do something' girl or I'd manage better than I do." And Janice sighed.
"You do wonders, daughter, for a girl of your age. Maybe it is daddy who fails."
"Oh, Daddy, never!"
Janice hurried to do the things Mrs. Watkins had left undone. And so she forgot some little purchases that had to be made, until it was almost dark.
Remembering these, she put on her hat and jacket in haste, and telling her father where she was going, ran out to the street. There were the "Weeks' tribe," Junior in the lead, with most of the other children of the neighborhood, running through Love Street in a noisy and excited throng.
"What can be the matter now? A fire?" wondered Janice.
Her errand took her in an opposite direction. But she saw people standing at their gates and chatting to each other as though there was some neighborhood interest that she did not know about.
"What is the matter with everybody?" Janice asked one girl whom she met.
"Why, didn't you see it?" was the surprised answer.
"Maybe I did, only I didn't know what it was," laughed Janice.
"A dancing bear. A great, big, brown fellow. You never saw the like," said her acquaintance.
"Well," thought Janice, "we cannot hire a dancing bear to do our housework, that is sure. So I don't believe he interests me."
She did the errand and hastened home, for daddy and she had not yet had supper. She ran in at the side door, and as she did so she heard voices in the kitchen. She halted, listening; for one of the voices she recognized as Miss Peckham's and it was high-pitched and angry.
"I wash my hands of you both—I can tell you that? exclaimed the spinster from next door. "I don't know why I should have put myself out to help you, Broxton Day, in any case."
"I do not see why you should," Daddy replied rapidly. "Yet I believe you meant well, and I thank you."
"'Meant well'?" sniffed the visitor. "I don't know what that's got to do with it. I gave you both—both Sophrony and you—the chance of your lives. And neither of you appreciate it. I wash my hands of you . Janice pushed open the door quietly and stepped in, closing it after her. Miss Peckham, with flashing black eyes and more color in her face than usual, had drawn herself up commandingly in the middle of the kitchen floor and was staring at Mr. Day angrily.
"There's that gal!" exclaimed the spinster. "She's the one to blame."
"I assure you to the contrary, Janice was doing her best to hide Mrs. Watkins' shortcomings from me," said Mr. Day, smiling warmly at his daughter.
"It don't matter. 'Twas over her you and Sophrony quarreled. You admit it."
"I certainly do not admit that I quarreled with Mrs. Watkins," he said firmly. "She evidently took offense
at what I said to her, and she left. Now she cannot come back. Under no circumstances would I consider it."
"Well, I wash my hands of you both!" exclaimed Miss Peckham again, and she turned sharply toward the back door—the door opposite the one by which Janice had just entered.
The matter of washing her hands seemed important, if only a figure of speech. She repeated it angrily as she jerked open the kitchen door. And then she uttered a strange, squeaking cry that startled Janice and her father before they caught sight of what had caused the woman's fright.
Miss Peckham seemed transfixed with terror. She threw up her hands stiffly and toppled over backward. She fell just as though she had not a joint in her body, and she fell so hard that her feet sprang up into the air when her shoulders and the back of her head struck the floor.
Standing upright, framed by the doorframe, was a huge, shaggy, ragged looking bear, and he was snuffling and whining as bears do when they want something. Really the bear was begging, but none of those in the kitchen for a moment realized that fact.
Mr. Day grabbed the poker. Janice squealed and hid behind him. But her single affrighted cry was all the sound Miss Peckham made. She really had collapsed in what Janice thought was a faint.
Before Mr. Day could attack the creature, a whining voice from the darkness behind the bear said:
"Bread-butter, please, Signore—Signora. Pietro no bite. He gooda bear. Give supper, please. Pietro lika bread-butter."
The bear came down upon his forepaws, still whining. They could see, then, the chain by which a very dark man, with little gold rings in his ears, held the animal in leash. The trainer smiled very broadly while Pietro snuffed curiously at the soles of Miss Peckham's shoes.
And Miss Peckham kicked the harmless Pietro on the nose.
CHAPTER XVIII. ALL IN THE DAY'S WORK
The huge brown bear whined again and seemed grieved that his innocent attentions should be so ungratefully received. The hysterical Miss Peckham kicked again and Pietro backed away and left space for his suavely smiling master in the doorway of the Day's kitchen.
"I—I wash my hands of you!" moaned the prostrate spinster.
"What—How did you come to bring that bear into my yard?" demanded Mr. Day, finally recovering his voice.
"Boy tella me you give Pietro supper," said the man with the very engaging smile. "Bread-butter. Pietro lika heem."
"That Arlo Weeks Junior!" cried Janice suddenly. "Oh, Daddy, there he is outside."
There was a loud explosion of laughter back of the bear and his trainer, on the dark porch, and then the clatter of running feet. Junior's proclivity for practical jokes was too well known for the Days to doubt his connivance in this most surprising happening.
"No maka troub', Signore," whined the Italian master of the bear in about the same tone Bruin himself had begged.
Mr. Day was helping the overwrought Miss Peckham to her feet.
"Of all things!" he muttered, "Take her out the other way, Janice—do."
"I wash my hands of you!" repeated the spinster, scarcely aware yet of what had happened. Then she suddenly descried the bear again. She shrieked in a most ear-piercing tone:
"There it is! I know Janice Day did that! Don't talk
to me! She's the plague of the neighborhood. No wonder Sophrony couldn't stand it here. Bringing bears into the house!"
"Oh! Oh, Miss Peckham! I never!" cried Janice.
"Don't deny it. You—you horrid child!" declared the spinster; and repeating again that she "washed her hands" of them all, she ran out of the house by the other door and quickly disappeared in the direction of her own cottage.
"Well, I never!" exclaimed Mr. Day, falling into a chair. Then he burst into uproarious laughter.
The Italian, who had been about to withdraw, and was tugging on the bear's chain, began to smile again. He foresaw leniency when the master of the house could laugh like this.
Janice gave way to merriment, too. It was funny. Much as she was sorry for Miss Peckham's fright, the situation altogether was one to amuse her.
Pietro waddled into the kitchen and sat up like a dog to beg. A bear is a foolish looking beast at best, unless it becomes ill-tempered; and this big brown thing, so his smiling master said, "had the heart of a child."
"And the stomach of an ostrich!" declared Janice, after almost every cold scrap in the house had followed several slices of "bread-butter" down Pietro's cavernous maw.
The old fellow was as good-natured as he could be. After the feast he went through his little repertoire of tricks with little urging.
He "played soldier" and went through his own particular manual of arms with his master's stick as a gun. He "played dead," but with his little pig-like eyes twinkling all the time.
Finally he danced with his master, and with such abandon, if not grace, that the dishes rattled on the shelves in the kitchen cupboard.
"There, that will do. He's paid for his supper. Next thing he'll have the house down about our ears," declared Mr. Broxton Day.
"Grazias, Signore; grazias, Signora," said the bear trainer, over and over again, and bowing deeply as he jerked Pietro by the chain toward the door.
His eyes, his teeth, and the little gold rings in his ears, all twinkled together. Janice thought he was a very polite man.
"And I hope he is always kind to Pietro," she said, when the foreigner and his strange pet were gone. "But, Daddy! Don't we have the greatest happenings in our house?"
"Right you are, my dear. An aristocratic lady has left us flat; the neighborhood censor has washed her hands of us; and we have entertained a highly educated bear, all in a single day. As you might say, all these astonishing happenings are 'all in the Days' work.' The Days certainly do entertain the most astonishing adventures."
"Oh, my! Don't we?" giggled his daughter.
"And now, if Pietro the bear has left us anything in the house to eat, let us have supper, Janice. I expect that hereafter Miss Peckham's opinion of us will be too acrimonious for speech."
"Oh, she never did like me much," sighed Janice. "And now Arlo Junior has made it worse again. Just think! The bear on top of the cats—"
"Scarcely that, my dear," laughed her father. "But if she really believes you introduced that bear for the praise of scaring her, her poor Sam's getting hurt over here will be a small incident compared with this ursine hold-up. The neighbors are going to hear about this, I feel sure."
Nor was he mistaken on that point. Before forty-eight
hours had elapsed it was noised around the neighborhood that "that very ladylike person, Mrs. Watkins" had been obliged to leave the Days and had returned to Marietteville, because of the treatment accorded her in "that house, which she had entered only as a favor."
It was told that Janice had invited a tramp with a dancing bear into the house and that "no lady who deemed herself such" could endure rudeness of that character. Somehow, the neighborhood censor did not figure in the story of the dancing bear; perhaps she feared to be ridiculed.
But Janice told Mrs. Carringford all about it. That good woman had serious troubles of her own; but she was not so selfish that she could not sympathize with Janice.
"I do wish I could do something to help you and your father, my dear," said the woman. "When people have as nice a house as you have Amy has told me all about it —it does seem too bad that it can't be kept as a home should be kept."
"Like yours, Mrs. Carringford," said Janice.
"My dear," sighed Mrs. Carringford, "I don't know how long we'll have our home, poor as it is. We owe a lot of money on it. I am afraid I did wrong in trying to buy this place," and she shook her head sadly.
Janice did not feel like asking the friendly woman pointblank what she meant; but Amy afterward explained.
"You see, Janice, Mr. Abel Strout, of Napsburg, owned this house. It was he who advised mother strongly to
buy a home with father's insurance money. We didn't know how much it cost to keep up a house after you get possession of it.
"Mr. Strout took part of our money in payment and mother gave a mortgage to him for the balance of the price. And that mortgage is troubling mother greatly."
"I guess mortgages are bad things," Janice observed, with a wise nod of her head.
"They are when poor folks have 'em, anyway. You see, mother held back some money to live on. But taxes and repairs and assessments have to come out of that, as well as the interest on the mortgage that comes due half-yearly. And that isn't all."
"No?" asked Janice, interested.
"Now it seems that Mr. Strout only wrote that mortgage
for a year and he can do what he calls 'call it in' a month from now. Of course, mother can't pay the mortgage; it is hard enough to pay the interest on it. And so Mr. Strout says he will just take the house back and we—we'll lose our money, and all," finished Amy with almost a sob.
"Why, I think that is too mean for anything!" cried her friend. "Can't he be stopped?"
"I don't know how. And I guess mother doesn't. He says he would accept a payment on the principal—that's the mortgage, you know. But mother doesn't dare give up any more of our money. There is nobody earning any but Gummy. And how far do you suppose his three dollars a week goes in buying food for all us children, for instance?"
Janice had no answer for this; but she determined to tell daddy the particulars of Mrs. Carringford's trouble. Besides, she had in her mind, and had had for a long time, a desire to bring her father and Amy's mother together. She wanted them to know each other, and for a very definite reason.
CHAPTER XIX. A FLARE-UP
At school the first of that week there was little talked about, of course, save the glories of Stella's party. No girl in the grammar grade had ever celebrated her birthday with such magnificence. The commendation she heard on all sides made Stella very proud.
Because so many of the girls tried to show her their appreciation of the nice time they had had at the Latham farm, Stella began to feel quite puffed up. She considered herself to be the most important person in her grade, at least, if not in the whole school.
It was a privilege to be taken up by the Latham car after school and set down at one's door; and Stella distributed such favors with no lack of shrewdness. She meant such rides to bring her popularity. Janice had often been the recipient of these kindnesses, and as she had told her father, it did delight her to ride in an automobile.
But since she had become so friendly with Amy Carringford, Janice had frequently walked home with her, or Amy had accompanied her to the Day house after school.
Stella was shallow enough when it came to displaying her own friendship for another girl; but suddenly it struck the farmer's daughter that a girl who had once been much in her company was showing a preference for somebody else.
"That Janice Day is sly," she muttered to herself, passing Janice and Amy as they wended their chattering way homeward. "She thinks I don't notice what she's doing. I'll give it to her to-morrow, see if I don't!"
This threat she proceeded to put into practice. And it came most unexpectedly both to Janice and Amy.
Janice, of course, was perfectly innocent and quite unsuspicious of any attack, and Amy did not dream that Stella did not like her. Had not the farmer's daughter invited Amy to her party? In fact Amy was liked by almost everybody, teachers and pupils included.
In arithmetic Stella always was dull, and on this particular morning she was more than ordinarily careless in recitation. Miss Marble gave her a sharp word and propounded the same question to Amy Carringford. The latter returned the correct answer, and then gave the red-faced Stella a deprecatory smile.
"Don't you grin at me, you pauper!" hissed Stella, and so loudly that several of the girls near by heard her words.
Even Miss Marble took notice of Stella's speech, although she could not overhear what she said.
"No communicating during recitations, Stella," she said sharply.
Amy had paled to her very lips and the tears sprang to her eyes. Janice was too far away to understand; but she was interested—she could not fail to be.
None who heard the unkind remark of Stella Latham but felt sorry that one of their mates should be so rude and ungracious.
"Of course, we all know Amy Carringford is poor—just as poor as poverty," one of them said at recess. "But that is no reason for telling her so!"
This girl was quite energetic in saying this—and more—to the offending Stella.
"Just because you ride in an automobile, and your father owns a farm, you need not think that you are better than anybody else in our class—for you're not, Stella Latham! Amy Carringford is every whit as good as you are."
"Is that so?" snapped Stella. "She's a poverty stricken thing. She hasn't got a decent thing to wear—"
"What nonsense, Stella," drawled another and older girl, shrugging her shoulders. "I noticed particularly the other night. Amy had as pretty a frock on as anybody at your party."
"Yes! And where did she get it?" flared out Stella.
"Her mother made it, I fancy," said the same girl, laughing.
"That dress was given her by Janice Day. Amy couldn't have come to my party otherwise—so now! You just ask Janice if what I say isn't so," cried Stella, stamping her foot.
"I don't believe it," said the first speaker shortly.
"So I'm a story-teller, am I?" almost shrieked Stella. "You just ask Janice."
Just then Janice strolled into the room where the girls were gathered at this lunch hour. Amy, of course, had run home for her lunch—and run home in tears, Janice knew. The latter knew that Stella was the cause of Amy's trouble, but up to this point she had not discovered the exact reason for the flare-up.
"You think I don't tell the truth," pursued Stella, in a loud and angry voice. "I suppose you'll believe what Janice Day says. You just ask her who gave that nasty Amy Carringford the dress she wore to my party."
Janice stopped stock still for a moment. Her schoolmate's statement was like a blow in the face. Mean of disposition as she knew Stella Latham to be, she had not thought the girl would tell the secret of Amy's pretty dress.
After the ban of silence Janice had put upon the farmer's daughter, and the latter's promise to obey that mandate and tell nobody about the pink and white frock, this deliberate breaking of Stella's word astounded Janice Day. Her face flushed, then paled, and she looked as though she were the person guilty of the outrage, rather than Stella.
"What nonsense!" exclaimed the older girl, but looking at Janice curiously. "Why put it on Janice, Stella? You are saying something you do not know anything about."
"Oh! I don't?" exclaimed the farmer's daughter. "You just ask Janice, I tell you."
"Do your own asking," said another. "Janice doesn't look very pleasant," and she laughed.
"You tell 'em!" commanded Stella, starting toward Janice threateningly. "Didn't you give Amy that dress so she could come to my party? Didn't you?"
Janice had begun to recover her confidence—and her good sense, too. She could not deny the accusation; but she determined to put Stella before her fellow schoolmates in just the right light.
"I do not know that it is a crime for one girl to help another," Janice said quietly, and still very pale. "If I did what Stella claims I did, it was nothing shameful I am sure—either for Amy or for me."
"Of course it wasn't!" murmured one of the other girls.
"Bully for you, Janice!" said another, in commendation.
"It really was only our business—Amy's and mine. But Stella knew about it. In fact, Stella came to me about Amy in the first place. She wanted to invite Amy and she feared—so she said—that Amy would not have a party dress. I undertook to find her one, and hard enough time I had getting Amy and her mother to agree to use the dress.
"But that," said Janice scornfully, "is a purely personal matter between them and me. I want to ask you girls, though, what you think of a person who, after having given her word to keep the matter a secret, deliberately taunts Amy with the fact that she took the dress from me? That is what I want to know."
The other girls were silent for the moment. Janice Day's scornful question was too pointed to be ignored. Stella broke out again in anger, her voice high and shrill:
"I don't care! So there! She is a dowdy little thing, and she had no business to come to my party, anyway."
"Stella," said the older girl grimly, "you're making yourself awfully ridiculous. And worse. You can't keep a secret. And you don't keep your word. I guess there will be more than Amy Carringford who will be sorry that they ever went to your old party. Now, stop yelling. Here comes Miss Marble."
The flare-up was only the beginning of a very unhappy time at school for Amy Carringford. Nor could Janice escape being unhappy, too, with her new friend.
That Stella was unable to raise any cabal against Janice and Amy, but quite the contrary, made the situation only a degree more bearable for the two friends. Although the other girls did not join Stella Latham in mourning the poor girl who lived in Mullen Lane, the latter felt deeply the fact that she was considered different from her schoolmates.
"Oh, I wish mother would let me go to work," Amy sighed, on more than one occasion, and to Janice's sympathetic ear. "I declare! I'd go out as a servant in somebody's home, if mother would let me. We need the money so."
"Goodness! Don't say such things," pleaded Janice. "We need a servant right now, bad enough. But you would not want to come and scrub and sweep and wash and iron even for daddy and me—you know you wouldn't."
"I don't care. Mother says she must go to work somewhere. I'll then have to come to school on part time only. Somebody must look after the twins and Edna May."
"Oh, Amy! what will your mother do?"
"She doesn't know. She has tried to get work to do at home. But all the sewing machine work she can obtain is so heavy. And so poorly paid! What do you suppose she gets for stitching those great, heavy motorman's coats—putting them all together except making buttonholes and sewing on buttons, which is done in the factory?"
"I have no idea," said Janice.
"Thir-ty-sev-en-cents!" exclaimed Amy, tragically. "Think of it! And they almost kill her, they are so heavy to handle."
"Oh, my dear! I wouldn't let her do them."
"I guess we wouldn't—Gummy and I—if we could help it," sobbed Amy. "But something must be done by the Carringford family to help out. When Mr. Strout comes over from Napsburg next week he will make us pay off something on that mortgage, or turn us out of the house —such as it is."
"Dear Amy, I wish I could do something for you," sighed Janice.
She said nothing more than that at the time. But that very evening she did not at once open her schoolbooks when she and her father sat down finally in the living room, the supper dishes washed and put away and the kitchen swept.
They had remained without any help since the departure of Mrs. Sophronia Watkins. Mr. Day had gone every day to the intelligence offices and brought back the most discouraging reports.
"But, Daddy, isn't there any person in the whole of Greensboro or in the county any more who has to work for her living?" asked Janice.
"That man, Murphy, at whose office I engaged Delia, says that there are no good houseworkers any more. He says the girls who come to him for situations are all 'specialists,'" said daddy, gloomily enough.
"Special dunces, I guess," Janice rejoined rather tartly, "if Delia was a sample."
"But she wasn't," said daddy, with a smile. "At any rate, he tells me he has good cooks, and good chambermaids, and good laundresses; but he has no combinations of those trades."
"Girls do not like to go out to service in families where 'general housework' is expected. It seems," he added grimly, "that to get good help we should engage two or three girls, and then have a lady, like Mrs. Watkins, to superintend."
"I guess we'll have to give up and go to boarding, then," sighed Janice. "Only I am sure I should just detest a boarding house, Daddy."
"I am afraid we should both dislike such a life as that. Your dear mother gave us too good and comfortable a home."
"But we ought to be used to the discomforts of housekeeping by this time," said Janice. "But, oh, Daddy! There are other folks who have worse times than we do."
"So I believe," he agreed, nodding, as he unfolded his paper.
"Wait, Daddy?' she begged. "I want to tell you."
"About other people's troubles?" he asked, with a quizzical smile.
"Yes, I do. It's about the Carringfords."
"Ah-ha! You were saying once that they were in trouble over their home, were you not? I looked that place up. A fellow named Strout—"
"And he's so mean!" declared Janice with vigor.
"Yes. That seems to be his middle name," agreed her father quietly. "I am afraid Mrs. Carringford got into the hands of a sharper when she undertook to buy that cottage in Mullen Lane of Abel Strout."
"Oh, dear, Daddy! isn't there any way of helping them out of their trouble?" Janice asked disappointedly.
"I cannot tell that until I know all the particulars."
"Oh! Let me tell you—"
"Do you know them, my dear?" he asked, interrupting her.
"Well, I know some of them," she confessed, with less vehemence.
"I think you had better ask Mrs. Carringford to come to see me. If she will tell me about it, I may be able to advise her, at least. I know Strout is a sharper."
"Oh, my dear! That is so good of you," Janice cried. "I'll tell her."
"She can bring her papers here, instead of to the bank," added Mr. Day on second thought. "Perhaps she will like that better. Any evening that she chooses, my dear."
Janice could scarcely wait until the next day to tell her friend, Amy what her father had said.
CHAPTER XX. STELLA KEEPS ONE SECRET
It was on this evening, too, that Daddy told Janice he had made a point of seeing and talking with Johnson, Mr. Latham's tenant. The man had a small account in the Farmers and Merchants Bank, for, like most of his nation, "Yon Yonson," as his wife had called him, was a frugal man.
"He came into the bank and I inquired about the girl who visited his wife and who broke Mrs. Latham's cutglass dish," said Mr. Day. "Johnson says he knows little about the girl—not even where she lives, or really who she is. Only he told me her last name was not Cedarstrom."
"So that, I fear," added Mr. Day, shaking his head, "is another lost trail. It does seem that the mystery of the disappearance of our treasure-box, Janice, is likely to remain a mystery.
"At least, that girl at the Latham's was another girl than our Olga. Johnson says she was only visiting his wife for a day or two. She was a friend of has wife's. I think they believe Latham wants to find the girl to make her pay for that broken dish, so they are less willing to talk about her than might otherwise be the case."
"Just the same," sighed Janice, "I do wish Gummy had known just how our Olga looked."
"How is that?"
"Then he would have known for sure whether it was Olga Cedarstrom or not. Just his seeing that her hair was strained back from her face doesn't prove anything."
"I should say it did not," laughed her father. "That manner of wearing the hair seems to be a common failing with these Swedish women. Besides, didn't I tell you that Johnson says that girl is not named 'Cedarstrom?'"
"We-ell, it is awfully funny, Daddy. It doesn't seem as though a girl could disappear so completely—wiped right off the map—"
"Vigorously expressed, I admit," her father interrupted. "But we must not begin to doubt everybody's word about it. I guess Johnson is honest."
"And those other people who knew her in Pickletown?"
"They simply don't know what has become of her. Or of Willie Sangreen, either," Daddy admitted. "That does seem strange. Of course the two have gone off somewhere to be married and have not told their friends."
"It proves that Olga did take dear mother's miniature —and—and those letters," said Janice excitedly. "Or she would not hide herself."
"Yes. I thought we had already agreed on that," her father said.
It was evident that he did not wish uselessly to discuss the matter of the lost keepsakes. Janice, young as she was, realized that her father was growing more grave and more serious every day. She did not believe that this change was altogether due to business anxieties, or even to their household vexations.
At night, after she was supposed to be in bed and sound asleep, the girl heard him walking back and forth the length of the living room; or, sometimes, now that the weather was so mild, he tramped up and down the front porch until very, very late.
There was surely some trouble on his mind that he did not care to confide to his little daughter. Broxton Day sighed more often than had been his wont even during those hard, hard days immediately following the death of Janice's mother. His hearty laugh was not so spontaneous nor heard as often as before.
Janice could not speak about this change in her father. She believed she knew why he was so grave and why some of his nights were sleepless.
Broxton Day had loved his wife with a passionate devotion. He must miss her presence more and more as the days went on. In spite of all the companionship Janice could give him, the man's existence was a lonely one.
"And, too, her heart told her that she had been the unwitting cause of this new burden which had come upon daddy's mind. Those letters which Janice had never seen—the presence of which she had not even suspected in the secret compartment of the lost treasure-box—had been Broxton Day's most precious possession. Janice had lost them! Her carelessness had given the angry Olga the opportunity to take the box away with her.
The letters had been written at a time when Janice's father and mother were very close together in spirit, if not in actual contact. Even Janice could understand that Laura Day must have revealed her very soul to her husband in those epistles.
Oh, if she could only bring them back!
So sorrow began to be entertained in the Day house on Knight Street, as a continual guest. It did seem, too, that Janice could do very little to relieve her father of any of the embarrassments of their situation. She
worked as hard as she could before she went to school and after she came home, but she could not begin to do all that was needed to be done. And she was so tired sometimes after supper that she fell asleep over her homework.
Their meals became, too, a mere round of bacon-and-egg breakfasts and delicatessen suppers. Shop-cooked meats and potato salads were on the bill of fare too often to tempt the appetite of either Mr. Day or his daughter, and the latter began to depend a good deal upon "baker's stuff" for her lunch.
With the unfortunate experiences they had had with help, however, Janice did not wonder that daddy found nobody to suit him at the agencies. Olga, Delia, Mrs. Watkins—and all those who had come and gone before —were enough to fill the mind of any person with despair.
Janice did not forget to tell Mrs. Carringford what Mr. Day had said regarding her trouble, and that on the very next day.
"He'll be sure to see some way out for you, Mrs. Carringford," the girl assured her friend's mother, with much confidence. "Daddy is always doing things for folks. He doesn't just advise; he is sure to do something."
"Yes, I should not be surprised if Mr. Broxton Day was a do-something man," said Mrs. Carringford, smiling. "He must be when he has such a do-something daughter."
"And you really will come up to see him this evening?" urged Janice, blushing rosily at what she considered a compliment.
"I—I—well, my dear, I could not accept any financial favor from your father. I would not have a right to do so. The Carringfords must be independent."
"But, Mrs Carringford, you mustn't feel that way! I have no idea Daddy could give you much money, even if you, would let him. But, you see, he knows so much more about such things as mortgages, and loans, and real estate, that he can give you good advice. And he says that Mr. Abel Strout's middle name is 'Mean'!"
Mrs. Carringford laughingly agreed to that, and in the evening she came to the house with Gummy, Amy being left at home to take care of the little ones.
Mr. Day had already met and quite approved of Mrs. Carringford's two older children, Gummy and Amy, for he had seen them both at the house. But he had had no idea, in spite of Janice's enthusiastic praise, that Mrs, Carringford was quite the woman she was.
He saw now a very gentle, pretty woman whose soft, wavy hair was becoming prematurely gray, with an intelligent countenance and eyes that fixed one's attention almost immediately. Here, Mr. Day saw, was a capable, energetic spirit—a woman who would carry through whatever she undertook could it be carried through at all, yet who was not objectionably self-assertive-like Miss Peckham, for instance.
If Mrs. Carringford had made a mistake in her purchase of the property in Mullen Lane, it was because she had been badly advised, if not actually cheated, by the sly old fellow who had for years owned the property which he had taken for a bad debt.
Abel Strout had doubtless been glad to get rid of the Mullen Lane place, and for the first payment made upon it by Mrs. Carringford. But he had been foxy enough to make a hard and fast bargain with the widow. He had her tied up in a contract that, if she failed to meet her obligations in a small way, even, would enable him to walk in and take the place away from her.
And he had done more than that. For some reason best known to himself he had first transferred the property to one John Jamison—a farm hand of that section— and had then had this Jamison transfer the property to Mrs. Carringford, he paying the difference represented by the mortgage he held.
"He said Jamison had grown tired of his bargain a week after he bought it," Mrs. Carringford explained. "He wanted Mr. Strout to take it back. Strout said by making the transfer he would be aiding both Mr. Jamison and me."
And now a change was coming. Since the transfer Mullen Lane property had begun to look up. A factory was going to be built in the vicinity, and that part of Greensboro was likely to offer a better field for real estate operations.
Broxton Day knew all this, which Mrs. Carringford did not. He saw that what Strout wanted was to get the property back into his own hands again. He would refuse to renew the mortgage and frighten Mrs. Carringford into giving up her home.
The way the matter figured out, the expense of paying interest and taxes on the Mullen Lane property was no greater than rental would be elsewhere for the Carringford family. In the end, if the widow held on, the place might really be more valuable than it now was, and would sell for considerably more than she had agreed to pay Abel Strout for it.
"I tell you what you do," Broxton Day finally said, having thought the matter over. "Strout has told you he will accept a small payment on the mortgage, and will then renew the balance for another year."
"Yes. But ought I to spend any more of the little sum I have left in that way, when my children may need it for food?" asked the anxious widow.
"You show me by these papers that you are fixed fairly well for another year. You and your son will both earn something, of course, during the next twelve months. So if I were you, I would throw a sprat to catch a herring, and he smiled.
"You mean?" the widow asked doubtfully.
"I mean for you to offer him fifty dollars against the principal of the mortgage. No matter of whom you would get money, you would have to pay the same interest you pay Strout now and no matter whom I might get money from for you, so that you could pay off Strout and get rid of him, there would be the additional expense of making the new mortgage, and all that."
"But is he to be trusted?"
"Not at all. At the end of the year he will want more money, if he thinks you will have difficulty in getting it and there is a chance of your having to give up your home."
"But a year from now I prophesy," said Mr. Day, "that your little house will be worth much more than it is to-day. At least it will be worth no less. It will be easier a year from now to raise another mortgage than it is right now. Just toll Strout along a little," and he laughed.
"Do you think I can do this, Mr. Day?" asked Mrs. Carringford doubtfully.
"You can to it for your children's sake, I have no doubt. And remember, in any case, if Strout demands the entire mortgage paid at once, within three days I will try to obtain for you a new mortgagee. You shall not lose your home, or what money you have already put into it, if I can help it."
"Oh, Mr. Day! exclaimed the woman, warmly. "If I can go home with this confident feeling—"
"You may. Of course, you are in debt. It is going to be a hard struggle for you to get along. But your children are growing up and in time will be able to shoulder a part of the burden which you have assumed for their sake. Take courage, Mrs. Carringford. Everything will turn out right in the end, I am sure."
It was plain that Mrs. Carringford was greatly comforted. When she left, Janice whispered to her father: "I'm awfully proud of you, Daddy. You do have such a way with you!"
But helping other people out of their troubles was not helping the Days out of their particular Slough of Despond. So many difficulties seemed reaching out to clutch at Janice and Daddy! The girl thought it was like walking through a briar-patch. Every step they took, trouble retarded them.
First and foremost the disappearance of that strange Olga Cedarstrom, and the loss of the box of heirlooms, was continually in Janice's mind. The girls at school knew about it, although only Amy knew just how serious the loss was to the Days.
The puzzle regarding the girl named Olga who had helped in the Latham's kitchen the night of Stella's birthday party, had been noised abroad among Janice's school friends, and more or less comment was made upon it.
"Say, Janice, did you ever find out what became of that Swede who broke Mrs. Latham's dish the night we were all there?" asked one of the girls one day. "Didn't you say she might be the very girl who ran away from your house?"
"Yes! I did think so. But it was not the same. Her friends said this girl was not named Cedarstrom."
"Well, who'd want such a name, anyway?" laughed another of the party.
Stella was herself one of those present; but at this time she was not speaking to Janice. She laughed maliciously when Janice Day had gone.
"What's the matter with you, Stella?" asked Bertha Warring. "Your 'ha, ha' is like that of the villain in the melodrama. What is the matter?"
"Oh, never mind," returned Stella, apparently very much enjoying her own secret thoughts.
"Tell us, Stella; then we'll all laugh," urged another.
"Oh, no. You girls say I can't keep a secret. But I'll
show you—and that Janice Day—that I can. I know something about the Olga-girl that she'd like to know; but Janice shall never learn it from me," and Stella laughed again maliciously.
CHAPTER XXI. THE CLOSING OF SCHOOL
Janice heard from Gummy and Amy just how Abel Strout acted and what he said when he came to see their mother about the renewal of the mortgage and the payment of the half year's interest. Gummy was very much excited over it.
"You strought to see that Stout man, anyway—"
"Oh, dear, me, Gummy, there you go again!" gasped Janice, with laughter, while the boy's sister giggled desperately, too.
"What's the matter now?" he demanded, in some surprise.
"Another lapsus linguae—I looked it up, and that is what they call it," said Janice. "Say! Why don't you talk so people can understand you?" Gummy demanded. "Don't talk Latin to a fellow."
"And you sounded as though you were using 'pig-Latin,'" laughed Amy. "You said we "strought' to see Mr. 'Stout'."
"Oh! Jicksy! Did I?" exclaimed the boy. I'm always saying one thing and meaning another, aren't I? Is that a lapsus linguae?
"It is in this case, Gummy. But go on—do."
"Well, Mr. Strout looks just like a piece of that green-speckled cheese Mr. Hardman has in his showcase —in the face, I mean."
"In the face of the showcase?" giggled Amy.
"Or the face of the cheese?" asked Janice demurely.
"Now, say, you girls go too far," complained Gummy, yet good-naturedly. "I mean Strout's face. It looks like the cheese, for he's all speckled. And the cheese is called Rockyford and tastes funnier than it looks."
"Oh, oh!" cried Janice, "you've got your cheese mixed with melons this time. It is Rockyford melons and Roquefort cheese."
"Jicksy! They sound pretty near the same," grumbled Gummy. "Anyhow, that is how Abel Strout looks in the face—speckled. And he came in, in that yellow dust-coat of his, looking like a peeled sapling—so long and lean."
"My, what a wealth of description you have at your tongue's end," cried Janice, still in a gale of laughter. "A face like Roquefort cheese with a figure like a peeled sapling. Well!"
"You keep on you girls, and I won't ever get anywhere," complained Gummy.
"Go on, Gummy," urged Janice.
"Well, he was just as nasty-mean as he always is. The only time I ever saw him pleasant was when he was wheedling mother out of her money before she bought the house. But he started in real bossy this time."
"I should say he did," agreed Amy, feelingly.
"'Well, Mrs. Carringford,' said Strout, 'I hope you are ready to take up that mortgage right now, without no hanging back.' He knew of course that mother didn't have a whole thousand dollars left—no, sir! He knows all right just what she had in the beginning, and that we've been living off it for more than a year," said Gummy.
"So mother told him she could not take up the mortgage. That she did not dare put any more money into the place —except the interest and the taxes—until prospects were brighter.
"'Well,' he said—mean old hunks!—'money is dreadful tight right now, and I don't see how I can let you have a thousand any longer. 'Tain't in the bill of agreement.'
"Mother said: 'Mr. Strout, when you sold me the place you said I could have plenty of time to pay for it. You knew my children were small and that I could not do much toward paying the mortgage until they grew bigger and could help.'
"'You got anything like that writ into your contract?' asked Mr. Strout.
"'It was verbally understood,' said mother.
"'That don't mean nothin' in business,' said Strout. 'I might tell you the moon was made o' green cheese, but I wouldn't guarantee it. Talk's one thing; a written guarantee is another. That mortgage is writ for a year, and the year is up.'
"Oh!" exclaimed Gummy hotly, "I could have hit him for speaking so mean to my mother."
"I don't blame you," Janice said sympathetically. "But never mind. Tell the rest."
"Why, all mother could say was what your father told' her to say. She said: 'You said when you were here several weeks ago that you would let me pay off some of the principal and let the mortgage stand.'
"'How much?' he snapped at her—just like a hungry dog at a bone, you know," continued Gummy.
"'I will spare fifty dollars,' said mother.
"'Fifty fiddlestrings!' shouted Strout. 'Won't hear to it! Won't listen to it!'
"But already, you see," chuckled Gummy, "mother had pushed the interest money toward him across the table. He grabbed it. He couldn't keep his hands off real money, I guess—his own or anybody else's."
"Oh, Gummy!" murmured Amy.
"Well, didn't he just act so?" cried the boy. "Why, he counted that interest money just as hungrily! And he folded it and put it in his wallet."
"You tell it just as it was," sighed Amy. "Of course I do. Well, mother said: 'You can give me my receipt for that, Mr. Strout, if you don't mind.' And then he did go off the handle!" chortled Gummy. "You see, he had tricked himself."
"How was that, Gummy?" Janice asked wonderingly.
"He made mother pay interest on the note six months in advance. When he accepted that interest he—what do you call it?—Oh! He tacitly renewed the note, which runs what they call concurrently with the mortgage. So the mortgage is good for another year."
"Oh! Is that what daddy told your mother to do?" cried Janice. "Now I understand." exclaimed the delighted Gummy.
"Oh! Daddy didn't mean it as a trick—"
"Not a tricky trick," explained Gummy volubly. "Of course not. But mother just let Mr. Strout trick himself. When he saw what he had done he tried to hand the money back; but mother said:
"'Oh, no, sir!, You can give me the written receipt or not, just as you please. Both of these children'— that's Amy and me—'saw me give you the money and know its purpose. Their testimony is good in court.
You have refused any payment on the principal of the mortgage; but you have accepted interest for the ensuing six months. You have therefore renewed the note for a year, as it is written for a year.'
"Oh, wasn't Strout mad!" chuckled Gummy.
"And I was proud of mamma," added Amy.
"You bet! Strout said to mother: 'Somebody's been talking to you—I can see that.'
"'Yes, they have,' she told him. 'And somebody who knows you very well, Mr. Strout.' Meaning your father, Janice, of course.
"'So you think you will hold on to this shack and make something on it, do you?' he remarked.
"'At least,' mother answered, 'I hope to keep it for a shelter for my children and not lose what I have put in it.'
"'Well,' said he, in such a nasty tone! 'You just wait!' And then he stamped out of the house."
"Oh, but I am afraid of him," sighed Amy. "He spoke so threateningly."
"Yes, Momsy and Amy think he has something up his sleeve," said Gummy, carelessly. "But I think Abel Strout is licked, thanks to Mr. Day."
Janice was very careful to repeat the particulars of this scene Gummy had so vividly related to her father in the evening.
"Maybe he has something 'up his sleeve,' as Gummy says," Janice observed. "Can that be possible, do you think, Daddy?"
"Well, it is hard to say. Now that I have gone into this thing for Mrs. Carringford, I suppose I might go a little deeper. Do you know if she had the title to that property searched before she bought it?"
"I'll ask her, Daddy."
"Don't ask in a way to frighten her," advised Mr. Day, on second thought. "It may be all right. Just ask her who looked up the title. Tell her I will have the money ready for her to take up Strout's mortgage when it becomes due next time; but that meanwhile I shall have to have the title searched if that was not done before."
"Oh, Daddy! do you believe there could be some—some—"
"Some flaw in it?" asked her father, supplying the word that Janice had heard but could not remember.
"There might be. This is an old part of Greensboro, and some of the old titles conflicted."
"But then Mrs. Carringford would not have to lose, would she? Wouldn't Mr. Strout have to give her back her money?"
"Perhaps not. Not if he could prove that he knew nothing about the flaw in the title. Or rather, not if Mrs. Carringford could not prove that Strout did know his title was fraudulent. Besides, the place might have been sold for taxes some time. That would invalidate the title in this state, unless the original owner, or his heirs, who owed the taxes, had quitclaimed."
"Dear me, Daddy Day? she cried, "it sounds awfully complicated."
"It is, for little girls. But we will see what we shall see," which to say the least, was not a very comforting statement.
Janice had found a colored woman who lived at the end of Love Street to take the washing home each week and who did it very satisfactorily. But the woman had small children and so could not go out to work.
Besides, such women as they had hired to come in to work by the day had been very unsatisfactory. Nobody seemed to take any interest in the work.
"Why," Janice thought, "we haven't even cleaned house properly this spring. And here it is June—and school almost closing!"
It was a fact that the last few days of the spring term were at hand. Janice was so busy that she did not know what to do. When she went to see Mrs. Carringford to ask her the question Daddy had told her to put, she broke down and cried, telling Amy's mother how bad she felt about the house.
"I got down the curtains and put them to soak; but I can't starch them and put them on the stretcher and hang them again," confessed Janice "The house looks so bare! And every inch of paint needs scrubbing—even in the rooms that Mrs. Watkins shut up so tight. She did not clean the paint."
"Can't you hire somebody to help you?" asked Mrs. Carringford.
"If you mean can daddy pay for it—he'd be glad to!" cried Janice. "But I just can't find anybody at all."
"I might come over and help you a couple of days, Janice," said Mrs. Carringford, doubtfully.
"Oh! Could you?"
"I can't come very early in the morning; but Amy can get supper for the children, so that I could stay until after your dinner at night, Janice."
"Mrs. Carringford! if you'll come and help us," gasped Janice, "I think I'll just cry for joy."
"Don't do that, my dear. Of course, this is only a stop-gap. But I will try to do what I can for you toward cleaning house and putting everything to rights again."
And a single day's work made such a difference Daddy came into the house toward evening without knowing what Janice had arranged with Mrs. Carringford, and began to "snuff" at once.
"Why, Janice, how clean everything smells!" he cried when the girl ran to meet him. "What is happening?"
"We are cleaning house. At least, she is."
"'She'? Who?" he cried.
"You'll never guess."
"I—I—Surely none of the neighbors has taken pity on us and come in to clean?"
"That is exactly what has happened," Janice said. "Mrs. Carringford, Daddy!"
"Mrs Carringford!" he repeated. "Not come to work for us?"
"Oh, dear! I wish she was going to work for us all the time," confessed the girl with a sigh. "But she is going to put us all straight once more, at least. The children don't want her to go out to work; but she will do this for us."
"Well, 'small mercies thankfully received; larger ones in proportion,'" murmured daddy. "The whole house to be cleaned once more? And without my Janice to be dragging herself to death?"
"Well, I have been worried, dear," he confessed. "I wrote your Aunt Almira, half promising that you should go to see them after school closed."
"Oh, Daddy!" shrieked Janice again. "To Poketown?"
"You won't find it so bad. And you need a rest, I believe. This old house—"
"Oh! you sha'n't talk so about our beautiful home," gasped Janice.
"If it is going to be such a burden to you, my dear—"
"It isn't! It isn't " she cried excitedly, and actually stamping her feet. "You don't mean to shut up our home, Daddy? I won't hear to it," and she burst into a flood of tears.
Mrs. Carringford came into the living-room, neat, smiling, and very, very good to look upon, the man thought. It was a blessing to have a real housekeeper, and homemaker as well, in the house.
"Quite overwrought, Mr. Day," she said putting her arms about the sobbing Janice. "She works too hard and tries to do too much."
"I know it," he said, shaking his head.
"And, besides," said the good woman, "Janice is growing up. She is growing too fast, perhaps. And she does need, Mr. Day, something that no father—no matter how willing and thoughtful he may be—can give her."
"That is—?" asked the man, paling a little.
"The companionship of a woman, Mr. Day," said Mrs. Carringford. "She should be more with some woman whom you can trust. Not the women you have had here to work for you."
Janice had run away to bathe her eyes and make herself tidy. Broxton Day listened to this woman's advise with a serious countenance.
"I was just suggesting her going to spend a part of the summer with her aunt in Vermont. And she doesn't want to," he explained.
"That would take her a long way from you and from her home. She loves her home, Mr. Day. Janice is a born homemaker, I believe."
"What can I do, then?" exclaimed the man, at his wit's end. "Were any people ever situated so unfortunately as Janice and I?"
"There have been thousands like you and your daughter," said Mrs. Carringford. "Janice will be all right after school closes, for she will not have so much to do. Let her books rest this summer. See that she plays instead of works. If you will, let her be a good deal with other girls."
"I would be willing to have her fill the house with them. Only that, too, adds to the work."
"Well, we'll see," sighed Mrs. Carringford, preparing to go back to the kitchen. "She can run over and see my Amy, and Amy can come here. They are about the same age, and like kittens they should play more than work. I will gladly do what I can for you, Mr. Day. You have been very kind to me and mine."
He wanted to tell her that that was not so. That he had really done nothing, and the favor was on the other side. But she hurried away to attend to dinner.
And it was a nice dinner that was served at the Day table that evening. Like the faded-out lady, Mrs.
Carringford sat down to eat with them. But there was a different air about Mrs. Carringford. She was really a gentlewoman.
Janice recovered her spirits and chattered like a magpie; and Mr. Day himself found that for the first time in many months, he had really enjoyed a well-cooked meal and a social meal at his own table.
Mrs. Carringford came day after day until the entire house was cleaned. Daddy found a man to clean up the yard, cart away ashes, smooth the walks and dig over the flowerbeds. The local florist supplied growing plants for out of doors, and the Day place bloomed again as it was wont to do when Mrs. Day was alive.
Meanwhile Janice and her mates were just as busy as bees concluding the spring term at school. There were the final examinations which were now close at hand. Janice really trembled over these.
"My sakes, Amy! what if I shouldn't pass? I'm awfully shaky on physiology, especially."
"Goodness, Janice! you'll pass, of course. Anybody as bright and quick as you are!"
"It's awfully nice of you to say that. But my recitations have gone off like anything lately and I really am afraid of these exams."
Amy tried to comfort her friend, but with little success.
Then there were many outside pleasures, and Janice, in a happier mood this time, remarked that school really did interfere with the real business of life—such as the picnics that the beautiful spring days made so thoroughly pleasurable.
"Dear me, I'd like to go to a picnic every day," she sighed happily to Amy one Saturday afternoon, after jolly hours spent with the boys and girls of her circle of closest friends in the woods, now white with dogwood.
Some of the girls were going away for a part of the summer vacation. But Janice would not admit that she even contemplated such a change.
Stella Latham was one of those who expected to migrate. She was going to some relatives who had a summer place on the shore of one of the Great Lakes, and she talked a good deal about it.
But she did not talk to Janice. All she said in the latter's hearing was something that only puzzled and annoyed Daddy's daughter. "I guess if somebody who thinks she is so smart only knew what I know about that Swedish girl, Olga, she'd give her very eyes to have me tell her—so now!"
"I don't even know what she means," confessed Janice, wearily, to Amy.
"She just means to be mean—that's all!" said the practical Amy.
CHAPTER XXII. SOMETHING DOES HAPPEN
"I hope something will happen so I can't go to Poketown," was the thought continually rising to the surface of the troubled pool of Janice Day's mind.
She did not know what Mrs. Carringford had said to daddy, nor how much he had been influenced by that wise woman's observations regarding this very matter. So, as the days went by, Janice continued to fear the worst.
For the very worst that could happen, Janice thought, was for her to be separated from her father and from her home. When the possibility of his having to go to Mexico was first talked about, the thought of their separation had made a very deep impression on the girl's mind. She had never recovered—how could she? —from the going away of her mother. If her father went out of her life too, it seemed to Janice as though she would be an orphan indeed.
So, without knowing anything personally about her Aunt Almira or Uncle Jason or Marty, her cousin, the girl felt that their association could in no way replace that of daddy.
"I just wish something would happen so that I couldn't go to Poketown," was repeated over and over in her thought.
"Perhaps that is wicked," Janice told herself. "But wicked, or not, it does seem as though it would just kill me to leave home."
After Mrs. Carringford had finished cleaning house, the home seemed so much better and brighter that Janice loved it more than ever. She did not want to leave Eight Hundred and Forty-five Knight Street, even for a day.
"I don't care if Arlo Junior does toll cats into our back kitchen and we entertain dancing bears and that half-crazy Delia and folks like Mrs. Watkins or Olga Cedarstrom," she said to daddy. "This is just the nicest house in all the world. Don't you think so yourself, Daddy?"
"I never expect to have so much happiness in another house as I have had in this one, my dear," Mr. Day said. "And we will hope for more happiness here in the future. But my little girl must not try to do everything. It is all right to be a homemaker; but you must not try to do it all yourself. We must find somebody to help, regularly."
Secretly Janice was urging Mrs. Carringford to come every day to the house and keep it in that "neat as a new pin" condition in which the sweet-natured woman had left it when the extra cleaning was finished.
"But my dear child, how will my own house get along without me? Amy cannot do it all, even if it is vacation-time."
"But, dear Mrs. Carringford, just think!" begged Janice. "Kate and Sydney are both big enough to help Amy."
"And they are a team!" sighed Mrs. Carringford.
"They'll be good. They will do a good deal for me," said Janice frankly.
"You bribe the twins."
"Oh, they are only teeny, weeny bribes, and of course children expect pay when they do things for you. Look how eagerly Gummy works for his pay," for Gummy was working every day for Mr. Harriman now, and his wages had been doubled.
"Don't let him hear you catalogue him as a child," said the boy's mother, smiling. "I must do nothing to neglect my own brood. Yet I feel that I must earn money. Gummy's wages will not even feed us. And it will last only until September. He must go back to school again then."
"Then come and see daddy," urged Janice. "You know he'll be more than glad to have you. Why, it would be just heavenly for us.
"I must think about it," said the over-urged woman. "If I could get work in a store downtown I would have more regular hours perhaps. For a home cannot be kept on an eight-hour-a-day schedule."
But Janice hoped. To do something to bring about peace and comfort for daddy and herself had been her determination for weeks. If only Mrs. Carringford could be coaxed to agree, Janice foresaw plain sailing.
This had been her hope ever since she had seen how perfectly Amy's mother kept her own poor cottage. It had been her hope when she had first brought Mrs. Carringford and Mr. Day together. But would her hope come to fruition?
Nevertheless, she was happier now that she did not have to go to school. She had time to work out of doors in the flowerbeds and to get dainty little suppers, sometimes, for daddy.
Yet, at other times she was very tired. She showed daddy a cheerful countenance almost always. But there were occasions when Janice Day felt anything but cheerful "inside," as she expressed it.
Somehow daddy seemed to guess, however, when she was not quite herself during these sultry days, for often at breakfast he said:
"Daughter, dress yourself in your best bib and tucker and meet me at the corner of Joyce Street at four-thirty. I'll be on the Maplewood car and will save a seat for you. We will go out to the Branch Inn for supper."
Such excursions delighted Janice, especially with daddy. It made her feel positively grown up to be taken about by such a well-groomed and handsome man as Broxton Day.
And almost everywhere they went people seemed to know daddy. Even the managers and waiters at the inns and restaurants knew him, for Mr. Day often attended business conferences and luncheons with the bank's customers, at these places.
Sometimes very well dressed men came and sat down at their table and talked business with Broxton Day. They were always very kind and polite to Janice.
But whenever she heard Mexico and the Mexican mines mentioned, the girl was worried and listened attentively. She knew that those properties down beyond the Rio Grande in which her father was interested so deeply, were still in a very uncertain state. As yet dividends from her father's investment, she knew, had been very small.
She thought daddy watched her very closely at times. His keen glance seemed almost like that of a person "lying in wait" for one. That was the way Janice expressed it to herself.
She did not understand what these looks meant. Did he doubt that she was really quite as cheerful and happy as she would appear?
On her own part, after she had gone to bed, Janice Day listened often for his step, to and fro, hour after hour, on the honeysuckle-sheltered porch. Was he thinking about the lost letters? Would neither he nor his daughter ever be able to get over—to forget— the mementoes of dear mother, and their disappearance with Olga Cedarstrom?
Janice often cried herself to sleep thinking of this loss. But she cried quietly so that daddy should not hear her; and she was always very careful in the morning to remove all traces of tears or sleeplessness before appearing in his presence at the breakfast table.
"What's been done to-day, daughter?" was often daddy's question at night, accompanied by one of his keenly interrogating glances.
When she catalogued the day's industries sometimes he shook his head.
"But where is the fun? When do you play? What have you been doing to celebrate your freedom from the scholastic yoke?" he would demand.
"We-ell, you know, Daddy, I can't be a gadabout all the time—and with Miss Peckham watching me from behind her blinds every time I go out," and she giggled.
"Miss Peckham be eternally— Hem! I don't suppose I can use strong language in regard to the lady who has washed her hands of us, can I?"
"Not very strong language, Daddy," she rejoined, laughing aloud now.
"Well, in that case, we'll merely ignore our neighbor. That means you, too, Janice; and you must play a little more in spite of Miss Peckham."
"But, Daddy, I do play, as you call it. There was the picnic in Emmon's Woods, and the straw ride to Clewitt—"
"And the picnic on the Latham farm to which I found you did not go," interrupted daddy. "How about that, daughter?"
"Oh—oh—well, you know, Daddy, I—I—"
"What's all this stammering about, honey," asked daddy, putting his arm about his daughter.
"Daddy, Amy and I just couldn't go to that picnic. Of course, it was not given by Stella, but by all the boys and girls of our crowd, but it was on Stella's farm. And— Well, Daddy, Stella doesn't really like Amy and me just now. It's nothing—just about that dress Amy wore to Stella's party. I told you all about that. Stella promised not to tell, you know, and then she did. I'm not mad at Stella—I was, though, for a while—but she's still mad at me. She'll be all right in a little while, though, Daddy."
"I trust so, daughter. Do your best to make friends again. You will all be happier if you are on a friendly footing with your companions."
These first days of the long vacation were not really happy ones for Janice, although she tried to make believe they were. All the time she was hoping to herself that daddy would not insist on her visiting his relatives in the East.
He had not really said that he contemplated sending her willy-nilly, to Aunt Almira. Yet the girl felt that daddy believed her health called for a change. And that was not what she needed. She was sure that the air of Poketown would never in this world make her feel any happier or healthier than she felt right here at home in Greensboro.
"I just hope something will happen to keep me from going to Poketown—or anywhere else," Janice repeated, over and over again.
And then, it did happen. Nothing that she had imagined, of course.
And this happening shocked Janice Day almost as much as anything could. It came in the afternoon, when she was getting dinner for daddy. She heard the clang of a gong, and an automobile stopped before the house. She ran to the window. It was a white painted ambulance— not from the City Hospital, but a private ambulance. And two men in white uniforms were preparing to take somebody on a stretcher out of the car.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE SILVER LINING TO A VERY BLACK CLOUD
Janice dropped the mixing spoon and the dishcloth and ran out upon the side porch, and from thence down the steps and the walk to the gate. Her heart beat so that she could scarcely get her breath.
The white uniformed men were drawing the stretcher out of the ambulance, and Janice, horrified and all but breathless, suddenly saw her father sitting up on the stretcher.
"Don't be scared, Janice. Be a brave girl," he cried. "It is only my leg."
"But—but what have they done to your leg, Daddy?" she cried, wringing her hands.
One of the uniformed men laughed. It was a cheerful laugh, and he was a jolly looking man. But Janice thought it was very easy indeed for him to laugh.
"It isn't his leg—or any of his relations" she thought.
"I tell you what they have done to him," he said, taking hold of both handles at the foot of the stretcher. "They have just set a compound fracture below the knee and put it into splints. Your daddy is going to have a glass leg for some time to come, and you must take good care of it. Where shall we carry him?"
While he spoke and the other man was taking hold of the other handles of the stretcher, Mr. Day lay down again. He did not groan, but he was very white. He gave Janice's hand a strong grip, however, when she got to him.
"Pluck up your courage, dear," he said. "This is no killing matter."
But now neighbors began to hurry to them. Children, of course, for Knight Street was well supplied with them. But Mrs. Arlo Weeks and Mrs. Peckinpaw came from across the street, while Miss Peckham appeared from her cottage.
"Dear me! Was he picked up that way?" asked Mrs. Weeks, in her high, strident tone. "My Arlo had a fit once—"
"Tain't a fit," said Mrs. Peckinpaw, who was a very old woman and who never spoke to Miss Peckham because of some neighborhood squabble which had happened so long before that neither of them remembered what it was about.
"Tain't a fit," she said acidly; "for then they foam at the mouth, or drool. I never knew he had anything the matter with him, chronic."
The jolly looking man laughed. Miss Peckham on the other side of the stretcher, and without looking at the other women, asked:
"Oughtn't he be took to the hospital? There's nobody here to take care of him but that fly-away young one."
"I won't have him taken to a hospital!" cried Janice stormily. "You bring him right into the house—"
"Well, 'tain't fittin'," said Miss Peckham decidedly.
"I guess both Mr. Day and his daughter know what they want," said the cheerful looking man, decidedly. "He wanted to be brought home. Now, my little lady, where shall we put him? All ready, Bill?"
"All ready," said Bill, who had the handles at the head of the stretcher.
"But what's the matter with him?" demanded Mrs. Peckinpaw again. "Is it ketchin'?"
"He has a compound fracture of the tibia," declared the cheerful man.
"Oh! My mercy!" ejaculated Mrs. Peckinpaw, shrinking away from the stretcher. "I—I didn't kmow Mr. Day drank!"
She had evidently heard alcoholism called by so many queer sounding terms that anything she not understand she set down to that dread trouble. But Miss Peckham had run ahead into the house.
"Take him right up to his bedroom," she said commandingly to the men with the stretcher.
"Well, if that woman's goin' to take hold, they don't need me," said Mrs. Peckinpaw, snappishly, and she retained her stand upon the strictly neutral ground of the sidewalk.
Mrs. Arlo Weeks was "all of a quiver," as she herself said. She followed the men as far as the steps and there sank to a seat.
"My, my! I feel just like fainting," she murmured.
Meanwhile the two uniformed men were carrying Mr. Day into the house.
"Right up here!" cried Miss Peckham from the stairway.
"No," said Mr. Day, "put me on the couch in the living room. Fix it, Janice."
At this Janice awoke from her apathy. She rushed in ahead and fixed the pillows on the couch, and got a warm cover to put over him.
"I'm to be laid up some weeks," Mr. Day said courageously. "I don't want to be put upstairs where I don't know a thing about what's going on in the house. I'll stay downstairs."
"That couch ought to be made up like a bed for you, Mr. Day," said the cheerful man, as Janice dropped down the back which made it into a bed-lounge.
"Do that later," said Mr. Day. "Here! Where's Mrs. Weeks?"
Janice ran to call her. Miss Peckham was descending the stairs, her nose in the air. She seemed offended that she could not rule the proceedings.
"Mrs. Weeks," said Janice to the woman from across the street, "will you come in? Father wants to speak to you."
"I—I don't know as my legs will carry me," sighed Mrs. Weeks. "Have they put him to bed? Has he got his clo'es off?"
"He just wishes to speak to you," explained Janice. "Right in here."
She led the way into the living room. Miss Peckham was still "sniffing" in the doorway. The two ambulance men were preparing to depart.
"When Arlo Weeks comes home from business, tell him I want to see him," said Mr. Day to the woman. "He'll help me off with my clothes and get me into bed here. I shall be all right."
He spoke quite cheerfully now, and even Janice was recovering her self-possession.
"Oh, well, I'll telI him," murmured Mrs. Weeks. "I'm sick o' shock, myself. But we have to sacrifice when our neighbors needs us. Yes, Mr. Day, I'll send Arlo over."
She trailed out after the two men. Mrs. Peckham sniffed after her, too.
"Well," the spinster said, "I can make him some broth. He'll need nourishing victuals. And he ain't been gettin' anything of late, I guess, but what that child's messed up."
She departed kitchenward. Janice and daddy looked at each other hopelessly. Then together, and in chorus, they murmured:
"But I thought she had washed her hands of us!"
"I don't want broth," grumbled Broxton Day, after a minute. "I want my dinner. What have you got that's good, Janice?"
"Stew—lamb stew. Nice," she groaned. "And plenty of vegetables like you like."
"'Like you like' is almost as good as the stew will be," chuckled her father faintly. "We must get that woman out of the house, Janice. She will be an Old Man of the Sea."
"No, no!" giggled the girl. "An 'Old Maid of the Sea,' you mean."
"Maybe I do. But how to get rid of her—"
"I know! Wait!" Janice dashed out of the room and out of the house. A crowd of children was still at the gate.
"Arlo Junior!" she called into the dusk, "Come here! I want you."
"You want my pa. He ain't home yet," said Junior, drawing near slowly.
"I want you to do an errand for me," said Janice hastily. "Come here—close. I'll tell you. Your mother won't mind."
"All right," said Junior, offering an attentive ear.
"You know where Gummy Carringford lives?"
"Course I do."
"Well, you run there, and see his mother; and you tell her—"
Janice in whispers told the boy just what to say to Mrs. Carringford, and he repeated it before he darted off on the errand. Arlo Junior was a great boy to play tricks, but he would not play them at such a time as this.
Janice went back to her father's side and left Miss Peckham, whom she heard moving about the kitchen, strictly alone. Daddy told her all about the accident.
It seemed, when he came down the stairs from the Chamber of Commerce, where he had gone on an errand, a scrubwoman had left a cake of soap on the next to the top step."
"Of course, it was just my luck to find it for her," said Broxton Day, with rather a grim laugh. "Maybe she wanted that soap. But I did not. I kicked right up, Janice, and it is a wonder I did not break my back as well as my leg."
"I landed so hard at the bottom of the flight that I was unconscious for a few minutes. Luckily Dr. Bowles, the surgeon, has offices in that very building. They picked me up and carried me to him and he fixed up the leg. It will be as good as new, he says, after a while."
"Oh, dear, Daddy! you might have been killed," cried Janice, suddenly sobbing.
"Well, it's all over now—but the shouting," muttered Mr. Day, his face suddenly contorted with pain. "Don't fuss, my dear. This is something that can be mended, I am sure. Don't give way to tears."
"Oh, but, Daddy! I know! I know!" sobbed the girl, hiding her face in his shoulder. "But something did happen—and I—I wished for it!"
"Wished for me to break my leg?" gasped daddy.
"Oh, no! Oh, no! But I wished something would happen so that I would not have to go to live at Poketown this summer. And—now—something—has—happened."
"Quite true, my dear," said Mr. Day, after a moment's silence. "You got your wish. But as usual, you did not get it just as you wished it. Still, the very blackest cloud has its silver lining."
Janice could not imagine a silver lining to this cloud —not just at that moment. She only realized that daddy was suffering from an accident that it did seem her wish had brought to him. It was a very serious and disturbing thought for the girl
Janice did not want to go out into the kitchen to see what Miss Peckham was about. She had left the tender breast and shoulder of lamb for the stew simmering on the back of the stove, and the vegetables were all ready to put in it. What the spinster would do toward making broth Janice did not know. And daddy did not want broth.
Just now, however, the girl felt too much disturbed to entertain an argument with Miss Martha Peckham. Things would have to go on as they would, until—
Suddenly Janice heard voices in the kitchen— Miss Peckham's high-pitched voice and another. Janice saw that her father was quiet and did not notice, so she got up from his side and stole to the kitchen door to listen.